A Rutgers University student from West Milford, NJ was hiking in the woods when he was attacked by a black bear after being photographed. Twenty-two-year-old Darsh Patel, majoring in information technology and informatics, was hiking through Apshawa Preserve with four other friends when he was attacked back in September. Moments prior to the attack Patel had captured a series of photos of the bear on his cell phone before being mauled to death.
Authorities in West Milford released several pictures after NJ Advance Media filed an open records request. The pictures taken by Patel prior to being attacked by the 300 pound black bear show the bear behind a fallen tree in the woods. In the released photos, the bear at one point is roughly 100 feet away and looking at the hikers. The bear continues to approach and almost catches up with the group until they move away. With the bear within 15 feet, the group decided to split up with Patel last seen scaling rocks to avoid the animal. His body was found hours later.
It is reported that Patel and four of his friends walked into the preserve Sept. 21 in the afternoon. They were met by a couple going the opposite way. The couple warned them a black bear was following them and walked away. Patel and his friends remained by to figure out what they would do. In the end, they wanted to see the bear and continued according to a Fish & Wildlife officer who interviewed the hikers. They paused when they noticed the bear was about 300 feet away, Chief Timothy Storbeck of the West Milford Police said. They took pictures then turned around when they saw that the bear kept advancing. Rutgers student, David Suh, a friend of Patel’s also took a picture of the black bear, which was released with the photos Patel shot before being attacked by the bear.
Patel tried to retreat by climbing a rock formation, and in the process, he lost his shoe. He yelled to his friends to keep going as the bear advanced to his position. The group of students ran out of the woods and dialed 911 per police records stating a black bear was attacking them after being photographed.
It took emergency services about four hours to find Patel’s body. A bear lingering in the area and acting aggressively was shot to death. Autopsy confirmed that Patel died from the mauling and per the necropsy human remains were found in the stomach of the bear as well as in the esophagus. Human blood and tissue were recovered from the bear’s claws.
According to West Milford police and the Environmental Protection Department, the bear did not seem interested in food. Detectives say that the cell phone was found with puncture marks from the bear. The bear exhibited a stalking type behavior. Police later on shot and killed the bear. Patel is thought to be the first human casualty in New Jersey from black bear encounters. Sixty cases of lethal attacks by black bears have occurred in North America over the last century.
The black bear attack on the students after being photographed by them was a one in a million incident per wildlife experts. The black bear population was nearly wiped out in New Jersey back in the 1960’s. Since then, the population has rebounded to about 2500. New Jersey’s fifth annual bear hunting season kicks off on Dec. 8.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Valerie – Flickr License